Don’t tell that to Sean Renfree. For the Blue Devils’ quarterback, the game doesn’t seem to get started until he has dirt on his uniform.
In the first quarter of the season opener against Richmond, Renfree was a modest 2 of 5 for 16 yards. Trying to run for a first down, Renfree took a solid hit by safety Cooper Taylor. The ball fell to the turf, as did Renfree, who appeared to be knocked out cold, and likely out for the game.
Instead, Renfree didn’t miss a snap. After spending 1:34 of game time on the sidelines, while Richmond had the ball, Renfree returned to the huddle at the start of Duke’s next series.
“I got a little dizzy, but I’m fine,” Renfree said of the big hit.
He was more than fine. Renfree proceeded to throw on the next three plays, completing passes to Cooper Helfet, Donovan Varner, and Brandon Braxton for 34 yards, setting up a Blue Devils’ touchdown. He would go on to complete nine passes in a row.
Renfree went 21 of 28 for 185 yards following his big hit, leading the Blue Devils to a near-miss loss.
Against Boston College, Renfree took a shotgun snap that was a little off target. Renfree bobbled the ball, held on, and was met by two Boston College defenders, one coming from each direction.
As he was sandwiched and driven back into the turn, Renfree released the pass, hitting Conner Vernon in stride. Renfree missed most of Vernon’s 53 yard catch and run to the end zone, as he was laid out by the double hit.
After the play, as Renfree squirmed on the turf, a group of Duke trainers tended to him. On the next B.C. possession, TV cameras showed Renfree laying flat on a sideline trainer’s table, shielding his eyes from the sun’s glare.
Again, he appeared to be concussed and out of the game for the foreseeable future. It appeared the Anthony Boone era would be getting an early start.
Instead, the Eagles held the ball for 4:28, and then Renfree led the Blue Devils back onto the field. Again, he wasted no time going to the air, throwing completions on his first two plays.
He would go 28 of 37 the rest of the way for 278 yards in a Duke win.
“I tell our guys, I don’t care about your mistakes and mental errors. They happen,” Renfree said before the game. “I care about your response.”
No one has responded better to adversity than Renfree this year. He’s been at his best after suffering knockdowns, both physically and figuratively.
While Richmond and Boston College defenders got their licks in, no one has dished out as much punishment on the Duke quarterback as Sean Renfree has on himself.
“Sean wants to make every play,” said Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. “If he gets 70 plays in practice, he wants 70 great snaps. I told him to take the snap and just play. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be a quarterback.”
Renfree was more than just a quarterback last Saturday. He ended up with a school record 41 completions, a career high in yardage, and for the third time, Renfree cracked the Duke top 10 for best completion percentage in a game.
“I think the first two games of the season Sean felt like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said after the game. “He had fun playing today.”
All it took was a bone rattling hit to get things started.